The chequered history of secession in Nigeria
On July 1, 2021 members of the Department of State Security (DSS) without a search warrant or warrant of arrest raided the home of the human rights activist, Sunday Adeyemo Igboho in the Soka area of Ibadan the Oyo State capital. They could not arrest him for he had gone underground. But two people were killed and a number of people were arrested and taken away to Abuja.
Sunday Igboho was accused of promoting secession by his call for an independent Yoruba Nation to be carved out of Nigeria. Not long after, he was declared wanted by the DSS. Sometime ago, the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Adewale Akanbi issued a statement publicly offering to produce Igboho if the Federal Government would agree to a peace deal for the amicable resolution of the impasse. Though the media aide to Igboho had denied any move to that level.
Sadly, up till the time of writing, those arrested without warrant from Igboho’s house are still in detention without any hope of being given bail very soon. Worse still, on our visit to Egbedore Local Government area of Osun State Saturday, July 10, 2021, passengers on vehicles were being searched on the major roads in Oyo and Osun states. Though we were not told the reason, we as reporters believe the Police were looking for Sunday Igboho.
Since 1950 or thereabout, Nigerian politics has been riddled with issues of ethnic domination and the control of political power and instruments of governance. Another concern of the tribes is the control of national economic power and mineral resources. It is therefore not surprising that the elite of tribal groups believe their interests are at stake in who becomes the President of the country. Which is why Nigerian history is replete with calls for secession. What we are seeing today isn’t knew. All the major political groups in Nigeria have resorted to this tactic since the 1950s.
It was the leader of the Northern Peoples Congress, the premier of Northern Nigeria and the Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadu Bello who first referred to the amalgamation of Nigeria as “the mistake of 1914.” Then, he felt Southern leaders were unable to understand why they were unwilling to be rushed to independence. The North wasn’t ready to replace European domination with Southern domination.
During the 1950 Ibadan Constitutional Conference where they decided the ratio of representation as 44:33:33 for the North, West and East. Northern politicians rejected the arrangement. There, the Emir of Zaria said their share must be 50 percent of the seats or they will secede from Nigeria. Subsequently, at the 1954 Lagos Constitutional Conference, It was the turn of the Action Group to demand that a secession clause be inserted in the Constitution. The demand was opposed by both the NPC and the NCNC.
Following disagreements over census and the 1964 general election, in December 1964, the Premier of Eastern Nigeria, Dr Michael Okpara said that the East would secede with the Northern Premier responding that there was no secession clause in the Constitution. But Okpara went ahead by setting up a committee under his attorney general to work out modalities for a declaration of secession by Eastern Nigeria. Thus when Emeka Ojukwu finally decided to embark on secession years later, he had ready made plans waiting for him.
Indeed within the regions too, there were calls for secession. In February 1964, a member of the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) in the Northern House of Assembly, Isaac Shaahu declared that the Tiv people felt unwanted and threatened to pull out of the North and the federation as a whole. “We shall be a sovereign nation, we shall be joining nobody. We are 1,000,000 in population, bigger than Gambia and Mauritania.” Shaahu was reacting to perceived marginalization of the Tiv from the formal political process and excessive repression in Tiv land.
The transition from threats to actual secession occurred on February 23, 1966 when Isaac Adaka Boro decided he was not ready to live in a Nigeria ruled by the Igbo. He therefore declared the independence of the Niger Delta Peoples Republic following the military coup that established General Ironsi as Nigerian Head of State. Boro had become distraught with Igbo domination of Eastern minorities. His republic lasted for only 12 days, the time it took the police to round-up his rag-tag army of 159 volunteers.
Boro was released at the onset of the Nigerian civil war. He joined the federal side and was killed in battle in 1968, fighting for the liberation of Rivers State. In recent years, one of the epic battles was the June 12, 1993 presidential elections which was annulled just at the moment when it had become clear the Yoruba Muslim Moshood Abiola had won a landslide over Bashir Tofa a Kano Hausa Muslim. The South were convinced the North wanted to rule in perpetuity by sacrificing democracy to maintain themselves in power.
The last of the secessionists is Nnamdi Kanu the protagonist of Independent People of Biafra (IPOB). The sad issue about Kanu is that he has been disowned by the people he is fighting for. And the Kanu, Igboho imbroglio is going to set agenda for the 2023 general election.
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